Provenance the Web Magazine - ISSN 1203-8954 - Vol.2 No.3 Winter 1997

What's an Archivist Doing in a Place Like This?

Peter Van Garderen is a graduate of the University of British Columbia's Master of Archival Studies program. He is currently employed in North Vancouver as a consultant for Eloquent Systems Inc., makers of GENCAT software.

"First of all, I should clarify that I am not yet an official graduate of the UBC MAS program but that I hope to fulfill all of my graduation requirements by November, just in case any of my professors happen to read this, hi Charles!  Well, I ended up in the MAS program in September of 1995 after finishing my Bachelor of Arts in History degree at Simon Fraser University.  Like most of my fellow graduates I was rudely awakened by the fact that nowadays a B.A. does not constitute a safe foundation from which to launch a career. The MAS program appealed to me because it would allow me to apply my previous education and interests in a more practical (read:  paid) manner."

Peter Van Garderen

When I entered the MAS program it was my goal to closely study archival and information theory as it related to new and emerging information technologies and standards. In whatever capacity, I had hoped to eventually find work as an "information professional". Therefore, as far as the question which heads this column is concerned, I have never found it odd that as a person with an archival studies background I should end up at a software company.

Archivists and other informational professionals are uniquely qualified to evaluate information needs and to design data architectures based on sound archival and library principles. Within the traditional information management community this view is somewhat well accepted but I have found that in the private sector records management community, there remain numerous opportunities for younger archivists with some degree of technical skills to put their training to practical use.

So what do I actually do at Eloquent Systems? Well, recently I have been working on configuring and packaging an integrated heritage institution system which will allow organizations with diverse holdings (i.e. archives, artifacts, graphic materials, published works) to maintain separate descriptive databases which can be maintained and accessed through shared authority files. I have been working on data architectures for some potential records management clients. Good thing I paid attention during my classification system classes (quick: what's the difference between a classification system and a coding scheme?).

Eloquent software developers

I have been involved in developing World Wide Web and SGML interfaces to GENCAT databases (is there anyone out there who has had an easy time with SGML?). I help clients over our support lines with more of the non-technical questions (i.e. "what's the difference between the see, see also, broad term, and narrow term fields in my authority files" - I'm still having trouble with this one my self). I man the company booth at various industry conferences.

I occasionally travel to customers to install new systems and train staff. I think this is the part of the job I enjoy the most because it allows me close contact to my initial interest in history. Just last month, as a matter of fact, I had the opportunity to do some consulting on behalf of Eloquent Systems at the Surrey Museum & Archives which is within birdseye view of my old high school. Other than the obvious nostalgic enjoyment I got out of this visit I also managed to see and enjoy their very diverse collection while I was working! What a deal.

Eloquent Systems is involved with a wide variety of clientele which exposes me to a large number of organizational and technological issues within the archives, heritage, and information management community. That's why I think this is a great place for a young (well, pre-30) archivist interested in the technological applications of archival and information theory to learn the preverbial ropes. I also have a great view of English Bay from my office window."

Peter Van Garderen can be reached by email
This article was last updated 2000-10-21, Nov. 16, 1997 by Site Administrator